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NH lawsuit challenges sex offender registry rules

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / October 4, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union is suing the state on behalf of a disabled sex offender who was convicted six years before the state passed a law requiring him to register for life.

The suit filed Tuesday in Merrimack Superior Court claims the man -- identified only as "John Doe"-- lives in a Manchester boarding house and cannot qualify for federally subsidized housing because he is a sex offender.

CLU Director Barbara Keshen says there is no opportunity under current law for the man to claim he no longer poses a risk to the public. She said he is classified as 100 percent disabled after a severe abdominal aorta rupture and numerous surgeries.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice says she has not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment.

Keshen said Tuesday the man pleaded guilty in 1987 to two counts of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter, who was between the ages of 13 and 16 at the time.

A judge at first deferred, then suspended in 1990, a 2 1/2-year prison sentence after the convict completed two years of sex offender treatment. The lawsuit says the court deemed him rehabilitated and terminated his probation.

It was three years later, in 1993, that the New Hampshire legislature required all sex offenders to register, regardless of their conviction dates. In 1998, the legislature stripped away the confidentiality provisions and made the registry public. It also eliminated the opportunity for convicts to prohibit public disclosure if they could prove they were at a low, or no, risk of reoffending.

The lawsuit claims New Hampshire's statutory scheme is unconstitutional because it imposed punishment retroactively and affords no opportunity for a convict to show he or she is no longer a threat to public safety.

The convict, now in his 60s, is classified as a Tier III offender, the most serious.

"Once you are designated a Tier III offender in New Hampshire, you have to register for life and there's no way you can go to any court and say you're no longer a threat," Keshen said. "You could have every psychologist in New Hampshire saying so and the court couldn't do anything."

Keshen said the current system is a disservice to parents trying to monitor dangerous sex offenders.

"We have over 2,000 sex offenders in our registry," Keshen said. "We don't have 2,000 people who are dangerous sexual predators in New Hampshire."

Keshen said the man shares one room and a bathroom with other men at a Manchester boarding house. Keshen said he has difficulty walking and is in poor health.

No hearing dates have been set.